Citizens brought into budget process

By Greg Gelpi

Opening up the budget process, the Clayton County school system held its first meeting of a citizens advisory committee Thursday night.

The committee is an effort to inject public input into the school system's more than $300 million general fund.

The meeting, the first in a series of such meetings, did a good job of breaking down the budget into terms a lay person can grasp and explained much of the education jargon, said committee member Millie Sharkey, a retired educator and appointee of Clayton County Board of Education member David Ashe.

"I think budgets are nasty, but something that must be dealt with," Sharkey said, adding that she appreciates the openness of the process.

Each member of the nine-member school board selected someone from his or her district to be on the committee.

"I think it's going pretty well as far as explaining, but we need more details," said Tonya Pass, a committee member selected by board member Connie Kitchens. Pass is a paraprofessional at Smith Elementary School.

Pass said more information before the meeting would have helped committee members have a better understanding of what was happening at the meeting and provide an opportunity to delve more into the budget.

"I really think their involving the community is a good thing," Pass said.

The committee is reviewing five options previously presented to the school board for the fiscal year 2006 budget's general fund.

Although each of the options is different, some items are common to all of the options. All options call for saving the school system $4.3 million by cutting the instructional technology specialist position at each of the county's 55 schools.

The instructional technology specialists would be given the option of taking positions as classroom teachers.

The final budget is tentatively slated to be adopted in mid to late May, and three public hearings will follow in mid-May and late June.

Other significant expenses in all five options are $500,000 for a compensation study, $2.7 million for a state-mandated Georgia Performance Standards roll-out, $750,000 to establish a research and evaluation department and $2.3 million for the county's first charter school.

Other significant savings in all five options include more than $270,000 by eliminating six central office secretaries, about $213,000 by eliminating two coordinators in Teaching and Learning, $5 million by more effectively using Title VIB funds and $2.1 million by using Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax funds to cover laptop lease payments. Other positions that would be cut by all five options are a custodian, two paraprofessionals in maintenance, a part-time position in Teaching and Learning and one training specialist.

Many of the positions offered up for elimination are currently vacant or soon to be vacated by retirements.

The short-term goal is a balanced budget, Chief Financial Officer Theresa McDugald said. The long-term goal is to set aside $28 million in reserves.

Two options call for raising the millage rate.

The budget process comes in the wake of the school system suffering a combined $41.8 million in state funding cuts from the past five years.

Other members of the committee are Lee Scott named by Wendell "Rod" Johnson, Gwendolyn Park named by LaToya Walker, Arlecia Battle named by Ericka Davis, Mary Baker named by Eddie White, Gail Hambrick named by Yolanda Everett, Elizabeth Armstrong named by Lois Baines Hunter and Henry Goss named by Allen T. Johnson.

The committee will meet again from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday.

The school board will hold budget work session meetings from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. April 22 and April 29.